LAOIS v KILDARE
(Portlaoise, Tomorrow, 2.0)
BAD news for Laois as they seek to banish the ghoulish memories of 2009 and become a competitive force once more. Here goes: Kieran McGeeney isn't overly bothered with experimentation or trying out newcomers for the sake of it. He wants to win every match in 2010. And that includes local derbies in January, not just June.
If motivation was the sole arbiter, then surely Sean Dempsey's men would perform like men possessed at O'Moore Park tomorrow, thereby at least partly avenging the horror show that was June 27 last.
On that sun-kissed Saturday evening in Tullamore, Laois exploded from the starting grid but then went from sixty-to-nought almost as quickly. Dazzling and all as Kildare were on the night, that 2-18 to 0-9 calamity surely represented a modern-day low for Laois football.
Dempsey survived that excruciating experience, just about. But he faces a massive job this season as he tries to put some backbone into a Laois squad that -- for all its talent -- collapsed all too easily and often last year.
First, they must shed a reputation for off-field indiscipline. Then, they must learn to remain competitive in those games where the tide has turned heavily against them: far better to lose valiantly than to throw in the towel at the first sign of trouble.
It won't be easy tomorrow, not just based on last year but also last weekend. Laois required a late goal from substitute Cathal Og Greene to edge out DIT, 2-9 to 1-9, whereas Kildare produced flashes of superb football during their 0-16 to 1-11 win over UCD.
The Lilywhites' much-heralded work ethic enabled them to survive the double-yellow dismissal of All Star Dermot Earley while Robbie Kelly's eight-point haul (five from frees) was an obvious bonus.
LOUTH v ATHLONE IT
(Drogheda, Tomorrow, 2.0)
THIS time last year, Louth were absolutely flying and duly won the O'Byrne Cup in a manner that augured well for a buoyant campaign ... the bubble wasn't long bursting. Exit Eamonn McEneaney -- and enter Peter Fitzpatrick, whose charges have once again stormed out of the January traps, blitzing Wicklow by 13 points in Baltinglass. For the new manager's sake, we hope it doesn't preface another false dawn.
OFFALY v DCU
(Tullamore, Tomorrow, 2.0)
TO inflict a 20-point pasting on hapless Kilkenny may have been okay for Offaly morale, but it's scarcely ideal preparation for the infinitely tougher task of suppressing those deadly DCU forwards, who ran amok against Westmeath last weekend.
-- By Frank Roche
TOMORROW'S OTHER TIES (2.0 unless stated)
WALSH CUP SH: UCD v Antrim, Belfield; Carlow v NUIG, Carlow; Laois v GMIT, Rathdowney; Offaly v DIT, Rath.
KEHOE CUP SH: Louth v Trinity College, Daver; Wicklow v Roscommon, Arklow; Longford v Down, Longford Slashers.
O'BYRNE SHIELD SF: Wexford v Longford, Enniscorthy.
McGRATH CUP SF SEMIS: Kerry v Tipperary, Killarney.
WATERFORD CRYSTAL CUP SH Q-FINALS: Limerick v UCC, Kilmallock; Limerick IT v UL, LIT Grounds.
CONNACHT FBD LEAGUE (SF): Mayo v Sligo IT, Charlestown; NUIG v Roscommon, Dangan; Sligo v GMIT, Enniscrone; Leitrim v Galway, Ballinamore.
McKENNA CUP (SF): Derry v Down, Celtic Pk; Antrim v Queens, Casement Pk.
ALL-IRELAND CLUB SFC Q-FINAL: Tír Chonaill Gaels (London) v Kilmurry-Ibrickane (Clare), Ruislip, live TG4.
ALL-IRELAND CLUB IFC SEMIS: Naomh Anna (Galway) v Cookstown (Tyrone), Pearse Pk 2.30; Maynooth (Kildare) v Spa (Kerry), Gaelic Grounds 2.30.
ALL-IRELAND CLUB JFC Q-FINAL: Dunedin Connollys (Scotland) v Emyvale (Monaghan), Newry 1.0.
ALL-IRELAND CLUB JFC SEMI: Longwood (Meath) v Castlegregory (Kerry), Gaelic Grounds 1.0.
ALL-IRELAND CLUB IHC SEMI: St Lachtain's (Kilkenny) v South Liberties (Limerick), Sean Treacy Pk 2.30.
ALL-IRELAND CLUB JHC JHC SEMI: Calry/St Joseph's (Sligo) v Nh Colm Cille (Tyrone), Enniskillen.